Brilliant Lavezzi threatens to cast Chelsea's season into the shadows


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The Independent Online

By Sam Wallace

See Naples and die, they say. It is supposed to be read as an invitation to witness the glories of the old port city at least once in a lifetime but for Andre Villas-Boas last night, it appeared to be an invitation to risk his own career.

Whatever you say about this young Chelsea manager, he is at the very least his own man and he walked out of Stadio San Paolo knowing that although he went down 3-1 last night he did so having done things his way nonetheless. How? By picking a team without Frank Lampard, Ashley Cole and Michael Essien in it and in doing so gambling with Chelsea's Champions League future.

Given the two-goal deficit that Chelsea have to overturn when Napoli come to London on 14 March it will be regarded as a gamble that has failed. Yet the undoubted quality of the opposition begs another question: would it really have made that much difference if Villas-Boas had gone with convention and picked those old regulars from the start?

The radical nature of Villas-Boas's team had leaked out during the day but even when it was made official an hour before kick-off it was the kind of line-up that invited a double-take. For the critical game when it seemed the Chelsea manager might turn to his experienced players, instead he gambled on the likes of Raul Meireles, Ramires and Jose Bosingwa.

Having failed a fitness test earlier in the day, John Terry was out of the side and he will have an exploratory procedure on his knee today in order to find out the extent of the damage. He is out for six weeks and his absence from the team last night only served to make Villas-Boas' omission of senior players all the more risky.

Against the run of play, Chelsea took the lead through Juan Mata, midway through the first half. But they were eventually unpicked by the brilliance of Napoli's attack and the incomparable Ezequiel Lavezzi, who scored two goals. Edinson Cavani scored the second, just before half-time, and Christian Maggio might have added a fourth were it not for Cole's goal-line clearance late in the game.

All the indications are that Napoli will prove too much for Chelsea on the counter-attack at Stamford Bridge. It will require the most momentous performance of Villas-Boas's regime to rescue this tie. Especially given the current state of his defence, that looks like a long shot.